Jo Daviess Grand jury indicts pair

Jo Daviess Grand jury indicts pair

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

A Jo Daviess County grand jury has indicted two area women on charges of obstructing justice. Judith Trost of Pecatonica and Nancy Siergei of Stockton were arrested Oct. 1 for allegedly making comments about a house fire in Stockton in which a man died.

The two are to appear in court Oct. 24 to face trial on the charge. Bond for Trost was set at $50,000, but she was released on her own recognizance.

Obstruction of justice is a Class 4 felony under Illinois law. Conviction can result in a prison term of one to three years, or the defendant may be given probation or a sentence of up to 180 days in the county jail.

The Sept. 22 fire claimed the life of Dennis Broushous. Jo Daviess County authorities claim the women told the Broushous family that the fire was arson and was committed by sheriff’s deputies. Trost denies making any such comment to any family member.

Sheriff Steve Allendorf said the cause of the fire remains undetermined. “It’s still being treated as a criminal matter,” he said. “We believe it was arson, but we’re approaching it with an open mind.” He said Broushous died of smoke inhalation.

Allendorf declined to say where the alleged comments by the two women were made.

Following the arrests, the women were transferred to the Stephenson County Jail at Freeport. Trost has filed a complaint against Freeport authorities because she said food and medicine were withheld from her for 24 hours.

Attorney Don Schweihs, representing Trost and Siergei, told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald: “The worst reading of the complaint is that they were gossiping. Gossiping is not against the law.”

Elton Self, running against Allendorf for sheriff, declared: “Our First Amendment rights have been trampled in Jo Daviess County.”

Glen Weber, Jo Daviess County state’s attorney, countered that: “Whether someone violated their constitutional rights or anything else will be decided in court.”

Weber was an assistant states attorney in Winnebago County, who was no stranger to controversy, before his tenure in Jo Davis County. He ran unsuccessful primary campaign as a candidate against then Associate Judge Michael Morrison and Associate Judge Steve Vecchio for the position of circuit judge.

Attorney Dan Cain alleged that just before the election information was leaked to various media outlets that Vecchio allegedly intervened on behalf a of friend who attended a dinner party at his house and was then arrested for DUI. Channel 17’s Jim Wagner gave an affidavit to Cain asserting that Weber leaked the information to him. Weber denied the allegations of Wagner’s affidavit under oath.

Winnebago States Attorney Paul Logli had given the allegations against Vecchio to then Chief Judge Harris Agnew, who turned the material over to the judicial inquiry board. Cain defended Vecchio before the board, and Vecchio was completely exonerated by the judicial inquiry board, but Vecchio had lost the election in the meantime, as had Weber. Morrison won.

In the Jo Daviess case, the statute concerning obstruction of justice is somewhat vague. It deals with furnishing false information, but does not say who is not to receive such information.

It generally has been applied to giving false information to law enforcement, thereby hampering an investigation. The law also uses the term “knowingly,” indicating the person repeating the information must know it is untrue.

Trost said she sincerely believes that the fire was set by Jo Daviess County sheriff’s deputies, but that she did not say that to any

member of the Broushous family. She has alleged Allendorf’s department intended to “frame” some young men from Stockton for the house fire. Those individuals have been released from custody.

Sheriff Allendorf termed those allegations “irresponsible and outrageous.”

Attorney Schweihs, on the women’s behalf, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges.

Trost said she has been continually harassed by Allendorf’s department since she began investigating the 1998 death of Ed Crowley, a security guard at Apple Canyon Lake and a sergeant on the Hanover Police Department. Trost was a friend of Crowley.

Crowley was found dead inside his burning vehicle at a remote location in May of 1998. The fire was labeled accidental.

Broushous was a mechanic and operated his own body shop. He worked on police vehicles, including those of the sheriff’s department. Trost said Broushous had worked on Crowley’s security car and knew about its mechanical condition. She believes Broushous may have had some knowledge of what happened the night Crowley died.

Juliette Schmitt said she also has been harassed by deputies in connection with the Crowley case. Sheriff Allendorf denies there is any link.

Schmitt said she was returning home from work early in the morning when she saw a glow on the horizon near where she lives. She said two cars, one of them a marked squad car, followed her with their lights flashing but did not attempt to stop her. Schmitt said the cars turned down a road leading to the spot where Crowley’s car was found.

She said she later was nearly run off the road by an unknown vehicle. Deputies also came to her restaurant and threatened to arrest her. Sheriff Allendorf later said the officers were “just kidding.” Schmitt did not find it amusing.

Sheriff Allendorf has said there is more to the arrests of Trost and Siergei than mere gossip. Trost doesn’t disagree with that statement, but she says there has been no wrongdoing on her part. She said she has every right to express her opinion.

Allendorf is campaigning for re-election. Reportedly, his opponent, Elton Self, has said Allendorf is handing out books of matches as a campaign souvenir.

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